Click on Image to zoom on the Geneva Window
(Other Panels at end of this page)
In June 1925 a representative of the Irish Department of Industry and Commerce asked Harry Clarke if he would be interested in designing a stained glass window for the International Labour Court in Geneva. By May 1927 Harry had submitted his proposal and subjects to the Minister (Clarke: 1988). In March 1929 his health deteriorated and he was forced to travel to a sanitorium in Davos-Platz, Switzerland. Harry left two of the Studio staff to complete the final processes on the Geneva window. The government passed the authors and subjects that were depicted on the panels (Clarke: 1988).
The window depicted scenes from literature by fifteen of Ireland’s finest writers. Harry selected the writers to be depicted with the help of William Butler Yeats. The writers chosen, in the order they appear on the panels in clockwise direction, were: George Bernard Shaw, James Stephens, Sean O’Casey, Liam O’Flaherty, AE (George Russell), Seumas O’Kelly, James Joyce, George Fitzmaurice, Padraic Colum, Lennox Robinson, William Butler Yeats, Seamus O’Sullivan, John Millington Synge, Lady Gregory, and P.H. Pearse (The Wolfsonian: Harry Clarke and the Irish Free State).
Many of the writers included were part of the Celtic Revival; some were members of the Gaelic League, while others were involved with the Abbey Theatre (The Wolfsonian: Harry Clarke and the Irish Free State). Harry also depicted works by disgraced writers, such as Joyce and O’Flaherty. Several writers were protestant. On Harry’s return to Dublin in March 1930, he put the finishing touches to the window. It was viewed by government ministers later that year (Clarke: 1988).
Harry received a letter dated September 26th 1930 from President Cosgrave in which he expressed his opinion that the O’Flaherty panel, depicting Mr. Gilhooley, would need to be replaced. The scene chosen to represent Liam O’Flaherty’s Mr. Gilhooley depicted a scantily-clad female dancer. Harry replied to President Cosgrave, asking that the President would call to the Studios to discuss two alternatives to replacing the panel. The proposed meeting, however, never took place (Clarke: 1988).
On October 2nd 1930, Harry left Dublin with his friend, Lennox Robinson, for Davos. Harry continued to inquire about the fate of the window, right up until his death on January 6th 1931 but he never received any decision. The Irish government ultimately rejected the window and it was never installed in Geneva. The window was installed in Government Buildings in Merrion Square until Margaret, Harry’s widow, bought it back in 1932 (Clarke: 1988).
The window was exhibited for some years at the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin, and by the Fine Art Society in London. In 1988 the Geneva window was sold by Harry’s sons to an art collector, Mitchell Wolfson. The window has finally found a home and is considered a rare masterpiece at the Wolfsonian, at the University of Florida, Miami.
Clarke, M.L, The Geneva Window, from The Stained Glass of Harry Clarke 1889-1931, The Fine Art Society, London, 3rd May – 3rd June 1988
____ The Wolfsonian, Harry Clarke and the Irish Free State, The Wolfsonian–Florida International University, Miami Beach, Florida, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection
Text by Lucy Costigan 2009